Sydney Morning Herald - Good Food Review - 8th November 2022
The Charles has been created in homage to the grand brasseries of Europe.
ADDRESS: 66 King St Sydney, NSW 2000
HOURS: Brasserie lunch and dinner daily; Bar breakfast, lunch and dinner daily from 7am
FEATURES: Accepts bookings, Groups, Bar, Long lunch, Licensed, Romance-first date, Private dining, Wheelchair access
PRICES: Expensive (mains over $40)
Let me set the scene. White-aproned waiters carry broad silver trays of food to double-clothed tables. A maitre-d' carves a single, broad, ruby-red slice of beef rump, tableside. The chef twirls the copper-plated wheel of a gleaming duck press, crushing the carcass as a grape-press would crush grapes.
Light from a glittering chandelier spills over the ribbed plasterwork and wood panelling of the gothic art deco dining room.
It's very, very grand, which is exactly what it says on the tin. The Charles has been created in homage to the grand brasseries of Europe by Etymon Projects, the ambitious group behind Loulou Bistro, Traiteur and Boulangerie in Milsons Point.
Rotisserie chicken with fries
Culinary director Sebastien Lutaud has appointed Loulou head chef Billy Hannigan, who trained with Guillaume Brahimi and was sous chef at The Ledbury in London.
The menu starts at grand and works its way up, with an entree of freshly picked mud crab pegged at $91, and a caviar service that goes up to $420. It's a little curious, with sweetbread and crayfish vol-au-vent next to asparagus Florentine and schnitzel a la Viennese, but that, I guess, is the brasserie remit.
Some dishes are very formed – a tomato antiboise ($28) sees a crimson orb of oxheart tomato filled with a creamy mix of diced tuna, anchovies and lemon; and crudites ($26) are art-directed into a wreath of tiny baby vegetables and leaves around a smoked almond praline. Other dishes are more casual, such as marinated baby octopus ($28) in a brown bagna cauda dressing that doesn't have a great deal of cut-through.
Canard a la presse
But then there's the duck, the whole duck ($170). I remember my first canard a la presse at the three Michelin-starred La Tour d'Argent in Paris as if it were yesterday; the pressed carcass creating a sauce so rich it was like eating liver.
This is better, actually, for being lighter and more nuanced. The very handsome, pasture-raised Maremma duck from NSW's Tathra Place is dry-aged for 10 to 14 days, then roasted. The legs are given a quick confit, but the breast is the star; tender, supple and blushing pink, precisely sliced and seasoned.
And the sauce? With the jus from the pressing fused with pedro ximenez and madeira, it feels remarkably uplifting, with a fresh, raisiny sweetness. It's too much for two; I'd say enough for four, along with a bowl of fries ($14), and a dreamy butter lettuce salad ($14) notable for its soft, fragrant herbs.
But nothing shouts "grand" louder than a dessert trolley loaded with cakes, tarts and petits fours, from head pastry chef Rhiann Mead, formerly of Quay and Bennelong.
Her Russian honey cake ($16) is a marvel, its 14 layers of light honeycomb biscuit sandwiched with sweetly rich cream cheese and dulce de leche. The decadence is a perfect fit.
The Charles is quite the experience. H&E Architects, together with COX, have lightened the bones of the heritage-listed art deco space, without losing the charm.
Market crudites with smoked almond praline
Senior staff such as Bert's Steven Lebreuilly and Intermezzo's Paolo Fremeni are engaging, and wine director Paolo Saccone's deep list offers both a 2009 Domaine Georges de Vogue ($3600) for oligarchs, and a floral, fruity 2020 Thivin Reverdon Brouilly ($105) for the rest of us.
This is seriously ambitious dining, invoking the gods of French gastronomy from Escoffier and Lenotre, to Guerard, Bocuse and Verge. It makes The Charles feel transported intact from another age, which is slightly surreal but rather delicious.
If you think it's all a bit rich, well, it is. But here's a tip. Dine in the bar instead, and get all the good bits of grand – fine service, muscadet by the glass, great rotisserie chook with golden fries, the hiss of espresso, the tinkle of ice in a cocktail, the sense of being in Europe – for less. The choice is yours – which is also grand.
Reservations: See Concierge or visit thecharles.sydney
Words: Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior
reviewer for the Good Food Guide.
Photos: Brook Mitchell
Read the article: Sydney Morning Herald - Good Food